During the Fall season at Rocky Mountain National Park, I do a walk for visitors called, “Autumn in the Rockies.” The gist of the walk is how Autumn is a time of change, a time of preparation. We talk about the three ways to survive winter in the mountains — as a hibernator, as a migrator, or as a tolerator. This is not only true for wildlife, but also for the people who call the mountains home as well. Though the changeable weather of Colorado can bring warm days well into October, Fall can always bring the first real snowstorm. Some of the Front Range’s biggest snowstorms have occurred in October. So when the calendar turns over to September, it’s time for us to begin our preparations for winter. Though there are many times that sleeping my way through winter seems appealing, we mostly follow the ways of tolerating and adapting.
One of the big things is getting the stove ready, and the fuel supply ready during the Fall Season. When I lived in the Sierra, this involved getting fuel wood permits from the Forest Service, collecting dead and down wood, and splitting endless rounds of wood into firewood. Then you had to haul and stack the firewood somewhere in the vicinity of your house. In my four winters in the Sierra, we burned over three cords of wood every winter in our wood stove. The problem with a wood stove is that it is going out every time you go to work, every time you go to sleep each night. There is no way to put enough wood in the stove that it will burn for over eight hours, which means that you are waking up or coming home to a very cold house, and having to get the fire going again pretty much every day, if not twice a day.
That’s why I was happy to see when we bought our house here in Nederland, that we have a pellet stove. Pellet stoves use electricity and wood to produce fire and heat. There is a hopper where you pour a large, 40-pound bag of small wood pelllets into. After starting the stove’s electricity, an auger rotates and pulls the pellets from the hopper down into the belly of the stove, where they burn. The motor allows you to control the speed, and how hot the fire burns. At lower speeds, the bag of pellets can last at least 24 hours.
So part of our fall preparation ritual is cleaning the pellet stove, replacing parts — thank goodness, Bryon takes that on. The second half is buying and storing pellets, usually by the ton. Fortunately, we’ve found a supplier near Bryon’s work place, that we can buy them at reasonable cost. We will probably go through 3 tons of pellets before next June. The great thing is burning pellets is not only clean-burning, but also a way to recycle. Colorado forests are filled with dead trees from the last mountain pine beetle epidemic, and mills are producing wood pellets from those dead trees.
Fall is certainly one of the most breathtaking seasons here in the mountains, but for those of who live here, we know it’s only a short time before the winter storms come in. Like the animals, we have to take advantage of all the good weather to get ready for the cold days that lie ahead.